Why do U.S. expats become involved in worthy causes?
The U.S. shared first place in the World Giving Index 2014, according to the Charities Aid Foundation. It is the only country to be ranked in the top 10 for all three charitable behaviors covered by the organization’s index.
Given this, it is not surprising that expat Americans would get involved in charitable and volunteering activities when living overseas. What is surprising, based on interviews with 500 expats for the website, Best Places In The World To Retire, and included in the study Expats: Expectations & Reality, is how central these charitable activities have become for expats. It is also surprising how significant the impact many of them are having.
Many of these expats became involved in worthy causes after seeing that they could have more of an impact than in their native lands. For example, Americans are often touched by their experiences with people who need help in their adopted countries.
The result: Americans living overseas do more charitable activities than they intended to do before they moved. According to the Expectations & Reality study, while 31.4% of expat respondents said that they were seeking a life that was “more engaged in charitable activities,” after they moved, 40.1% reported that they led more engaged lives, meaning that the reality of helping others increased after they moved abroad.
Among benefits, the U.S. expats said that they could see the results of their work more directly. When Darrel Bushnell helped to create the first lending library in Granada, Nicaragua, Puedo Leer, he worked one-on-one with the children he was helping. Bushnell said that for “many of the children, this was their first encounter reading books for pleasure. Many of these children have never had a story read to them, let alone read it themselves.” When his expat neighbors donated books, or read to the children, they could see how each child benefitted.
This perpetuates an American trait of doing social good. The French historian Alexis de Tocqueville noted as much when he visited America in 1836. He described how Americans spontaneously formed associations to jointly pursue different endeavors.
Alfonso Galindo, who lives in the Merida, a city in Yucatan, Mexico, said expats have more time to engage in charitable activities when living overseas. “In the US, many people just work to survive, so they don’t have a lot of spare time or money. When they come to Mexico, many can afford to retire, and as a result, they have more time and much more disposable income. Some of that, they put to use in volunteering for good causes.”
By Chuck Bolotin